Sunday, April 6, 2008

Everybody Loves to Stick with a Loser

I was a big Red Sox fan when I was a kid, but I didn't follow baseball at all through my angsty teenage years. (A lot of that was due to my parents' watching the Braves play every single night when I wanted to watch whatever terrible sitcom I wanted to watch.) But once I got to college, I started supporting the Sox (and reluctantly, the Braves) again.

The Sox weren't that good in 2002, just like they haven't been that good for nearly a century. But now they've won two World Series, and following them is different. It's a little like watching your favorite indie-rock band hit the big time; you're afraid that people are going to think you listen to them only because they're popular.

The Sox aren't doing so hot so far this year--today's game was a bloodbath and an embarrassment--and somehow that makes me feel better about supporting them. What is it about losers and especially losing sports teams that attracts us? The Red Sox and the Cubs both have huge national followings--even when the Red Sox were terrible and even though the Cubs still haven't won in decades.

I've got no answers, and I'm counting on Joel to provide them.


distractedblues said...

It's a theory I just made up called "Reverse Schadenfreude."
Note that this is not a "rooting for the underdog" that a lot of people do. It's not about rooting for a smaller or traditionally less competitive party to squeak one out over a generally dominant force. No, RS is a long-term attachment/obsession based in an associative relationship between a person with relatively low self-esteem and a party that s/he feels represents that person's own struggle without much success. Unlike Schadenfreude, in which we derive pleasure from watching others fail or get hurt, RS is such that we see others' struggles and feel pain we believe to deserve ourselves. This isn't feeling sorry for Charlie Brown, but rather becoming personally invested in Charlie Brown's repeated failures.

For the record, I'm sure some of my Cubs fandom has to do with RS. I find myself wanting to more closely follow teams that have a recent history of struggling. At the same time, my Cubs fandom also has a lot to do with where I grew up, the Cubs' role in my childhood, and my affection for Chicago (particularly that area of Chicago), among other things. My cheering for the Cleveland Browns, however, is probably 90% RS, as much as I hate to admit it.

Michial said...

Yeah, I wonder if my getting interested in the Falcons and the Hawks has less to do with my being from Atlanta and more to do with their being perpetually losing teams.

Thanks for your thoughts, Joel--that seems very perceptive to me.

distractedblues said...

Thanks, Michial. Yeah, you know me...I'm the king of the improvisational bullshit theorists. Speaking of which, ever read George W. S. Trow? I should ask you that on facebook.

Michial said...

Never heard of him.